Special Olympics games fill ETSU dome with joy

Sue Guinn Legg • Apr 27, 2018 at 11:28 PM

Thursday and Friday were joyous days inside East Tennessee State University’s Mini-Dome as more than 500 athletes and 300-plus volunteers converged for the annual Area 3 Special Olympics Track and Field Games.

Runners from Johnson City’s police, fire and EMS departments and from Nuclear Fuel Services and Murray Guard helped open the games early Thursday morning with a cross-town torch run from the city hall to the floor of the Mini-Dome, where Special Olympics athlete Donnie Stove was given the honors of lighting the Special Olympics cauldron.

About 150 athletes from adult service agencies in Washington, Carter, Unicoi and Johnson county competed in the games on Thursday, and more than 400 student competitors from public schools in the four counties joined in the games on Friday.

Both days began with a parade of athletes lead by school color guards and drum corps followed by opening ceremonies with special recognitions and welcoming words from guests including ETSU Football Coach Randy Sanders, who wrapped up Friday morning’s festivities by declaring the games open.

Friday’s opening ceremony also included special recognition of Rowan Benton from Science Hill High School as Area 3 Special Olympics Athlete of the Year for his gold medal performance in this year’s Special Olympics Winter Games at Ober Gatlinburg.

And with all that said and done, the athletes and volunteers dispersed for a day of friendly competition, fellowship, fun and fulfillment.

Aside from excitement of competing and the recognition for their efforts, Area Co-Director Kim Britt said the games provide the athletes and their families “an opportunity to come together with the community, reconnect with friends they have not seen in a while and to grow and have fun.”

Abbi Torgerson, a member of the Area 3 Special Olympics Board, called it a great year for the games. “We’ve had more than 400 athletes. We’ve had a lot of support from the community (companies who sponsor and volunteer in the games) and encouraged a lot of others to volunteer.”

“It’s such a joyful place and joyful time,” said Torgerson, who first became involved in Special Olympics as a volunteer.

“After you volunteer once, you’re hooked.” she said.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.

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